Abdellatif Kechiche‘s “Mektoub, My Love: Intermezzo” is a 212-minute cinematic revolution. It means to destroy our notion of what a movie should be in 2019, and the fact that the film was included in Cannes competition is a message in itself from Thierry Fremaux and the gang.
This film might very well be the cinematic peak of sexual male-gazing — the infatuation Kechiche seems to have on asses is perverse enough to have people calling for him to be put on a stake. Taking place mostly in a nightclub, with the first hour or so setting up the characters with rich conversations by the beach-side about life and relationships, this radical statement is bound to never be released in the United States, but will live a decent life in French and European cinemas, where there is more of a curiosity for provocative cinema.
Kechiche initially spends some time on the beach before hitting the club. Tony (Salim Kechiouche) and Aime (Roméo De Lacour) chat up a young girl lying by the beachside. She is Parisian tourist Marie (Marie Bernard) they invite the 18-year-old beauty to join their circle of friends, the same “Canto Uno” gang including Ophelie (Ophélie Bau). and her much older Uncle who still wants to party, despite being in his 50s. There’s also. Celine (Lou Luttiao) but where’s Charlotte (Alexia Chardard)?
Roughly three-quarters of this epic is set in a club in Sete, France. Amin (Boumedine), the shy student from the first film “Mektoub: Canto Uno,” does eventually appear in “Intermezzo” and still seems to be obsessing over Ophélie (Ophélie Bau), the gorgeous 27-year-old who’s been having an affair with Tony, even though she is engaged to Clément, who is doing active duty in Iraq. However, now Ophélie is pregnant and, no surprise, it’s not Clément’s baby.
The dancing and throbbing in this film is so lively and energetic that it reminded me of last year’s glorious Gaspar Noe danceathon “Climax.” Like Noe, Kechiche wants to have us feel what it’s like to be on the dancefloor in the wee-wee hours of the morning.
In between the dancing, toasts, chatting and drinking, there are hookups, including a 15-minute cunnilingus scene in the club bathroom. Also, Marie turns out to be quite the promiscuous girl, managing to find herself in a three-way makeout dance-floor sandwich with Tony and Aime, but she’s also eyeing Amin.
Does the film objectify its women on screen? I would say so. It is, after all, shot though the eyes of its male-gazing director. However, Kechiche should not be forced to be objective with any of his movies. He sure as hell wasn’t objective with “Blue is the Warmest Color,” the Palme D’or-winning lesbian drama which featured graphic sex and felt, to my eyes at least, like the work of a male director.
The same way a film like this year’s Cannes stunner, “Portrait of A Lady On Fire” could never be the same movie if a woman hadn’t directed it, Kechiche’s film is very much the product of a man behind the camera. If that irks you to no end then, yeah, you’ll absolutely despise this movie. But ‘Mektoub’ should very much be considered personal, auteur-driven filmmaking.
As for Marco Graziaplena’s cinematography, it’s cinema is at its purest form. The balance of Graziaplena’s images and the masterful flow of the editing feel symphonic. Kechiche is interested in images which stimulate purely emotional responses from his audience. And yet, for all the hate it has been getting, the one thing you won’t hear from many of Intermezzo’s detractors, is the fact that its female characters are actually well-developed and do come off as being more powerful and independent than the men on-screen. By the end of the movie you know them very well; their irks, their pains, their ambitions. It’s all there.
"Intermezzo" is the darker, more ambitious companion to "Canto Uno." It can feel overwrought at times, but the urban naturalism Kechiche pushes for is damn-near breathtaking to behold. Kechiche has always had a keen eye for the way people speak and act in real life. As you watch these two Mektoub films, no doubt being turned into a trilogy, you do wonder how much of it is improvisation, how much of it is written dialogue and how much of it may very well have been actually experienced on camera. That blurring of the lines is absolutely fascinating to watch here.